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Lovely girl and little pony

Contrarian Larry Parsons wants people to remember that a vote against Monterey Downs is a vote against ponies

It’s one of the glorious days when possible subjects to write about are falling from the sky like so many stars in a Jimi Hendrix song.

First, there are all advance quotes from former Vice President Dick Cheney’s interview in the upcoming issue of Playboy in which he — major SPOILER alert — calls President Obama the worst president of all time and space.

This from the guy who never saw an oil well or potential Middle Eastern war without feeling lust in his heart. Cue the Jimmy Carter canoe-and-cannibal-rabbit story, and juxtapose it with the time Cheney was bitten by a floppy-eared werewolf.

Another subject, naturally, is Starbucks’ harebrained push for employees to engage customers in conversations about racial relations in the United States. People much higher in their pay grades in politics, pulpits, the media and corporate board rooms should be having these conversations — not $10-an-hour baristas, for pity’s sake.

“Reparations, race cards, rap music!!! Just give me caffeine, for #!?%’s sake.” Oh, the sound of America healing.

And there is the Hillary problem — that amorphous, media-fed tidal wave carrying the flotsam of secret emails, cattle futures, travel bookings, botched health-care plans and being-married-to-Bill again to the shores of our presidential politics. But there will be time, oh, there will be time, to wear out the fingers blogging about this. It never will go away, and the mighty Wurlitzer is just getting tuned up.

Then I spotted a story from the right side of the media world that seemed especially piquant. A blogger for the Daily Caller, the conservative web site run by Peter Pan frat boy Tucker Carlson, quit when Tucker spiked a column critical of Fox News. Seems you can criticize everything under the sun but Fox News — Imperial Death Star of right-wing confabulation — at the Daily Caller.

The writer was unhappy that Fox lately has dropped threat-level 7 stories about the scourge of unauthorized immigration and Obama amnesty plans to pad Democratic voter lists. Apparently, Fox is hitting harder at the scourge of all things Muslim and the terrible fact that American troops are no longer dying in sufficient numbers in the Middle East because the last two wars went so well.

This falling-out among fevered founts of Fox fabulism got me thinking. I’d best watch my step, or something similar could upset the equilibrium here the Monterey Bay Partisan.

In my notebook, I found a few ideas I’d been kicking around for columns that I realize might run afoul of what could be called the Partisan party line. Rest assured they will never see the light of day, or I, too, would have to take the high road and resign in a righteous huff from this comfortable and prestigious sinecure. I will share a few, but this is strictly between me and you. Totally off the record, very hush-hush.

1. Sure Cal Am hasn’t produced a major water project for the Peninsula to save the Carmel River for almost 40 years and the multinational utility takes profits out of the community and passes on all sorts of questionable costs to customers who spend a good part of each day getting thorns and needles out of their hides from their prickly xeriscape gardens, but the water company isn’t all bad. I saw a crew fixing a water line one day, and the guy with the jack hammer smiled, or looked like he was trying to smile as his face jiggled like Jello …

2. We can agree that the undeveloped land at Fort Ord is pretty unsurpassed in coastal country beauty, but just a teensy bit could be tastefully destroyed to make room for the charming, little Monterey Downs horsolopolis. Think of all the jobs. You remember, Hercules got his start mucking out stables. And if there were horses, there would be ponies. So there will be pony rides for all the children, and we must think of the children …

3. OK, the Ferrini Ranch subdivision will dump hundreds of more vehicles each day on Highway 68, making the stop-and-go commute between Salinas and Monterey a lot more stoppy than goey. But there are a lot of good audio books that can be very instructive when you spend more than two hours a day listening to them in frozen traffic. And some folks, who must take Highway 68 to get to the two or three jobs they juggle to make ends meet, may decide to eat and sleep in their cars during peak congestion. This could ease the horrible shortage of affordable housing in Monterey County. Moreover, the slower traffic pace will allow travelers more time to enjoy the rustic beauty of the old red-and-white fence near Laguna Seca …

Seriously, these jottings, I promise, will never see the light of day at this blog.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the upcoming Cheney issue of Playboy. I’m interested in whether the Playboy editors have ever found a Playboy Party Joke that is funny. Like this one:

Trimalchio: I attended an orgy last night with the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Encolpius: Ooh, sounds nasty. Was it fun?

Trimalchio: For a while, but then Mike Huckabee arrived.

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fachada-do-hotel-vistoSeaside has a long history of poor land use decisions.

A hot item at last Thursday’s Seaside council meeting was Monterey Downs, the controversial horse race track with other assorted components proposed for an undisturbed portion of Fort Ord land. I did not attend in person, but I did watch much of it on TV. The question of the day was whether the city should extend an exclusive negotiation agreement with the developer, Brian Boudreau, for another year or give up on the project now.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a major turning point or an earth-shattering decision, but it drew an enormous crowd anyway. After two and a half hours of public testimony with a majority opposing the project, the council voted 4-1 to approve the extension.

No surprise there. With the exception of Jason Campbell, Seaside City Council members have been known to drool excitedly over the prospect of any new development in Seaside, and something on this scale is beyond anything dreamed of before Boudreau came along. In short, they’re seeing $$$$$ dancing in front of their eyes.

This isn’t the first time Seaside leaders have been dazzled by the prospect of easy money. It has afflicted almost every mayor and City Council over the last 30 years, leading to a string of poor land-use decisions of little economic value. At Thursday’s meeting, one young woman, a student from CSUMB, likened Seaside to an ugly girl who will accept a marriage proposal from the first guy who comes along. So true!

I’ve felt that way ever since Chili’s restaurant came into town. Here was a prime lakefront commercial property, unlike any other available in the entire city, and the best use city leaders could find was a bargain-brand chain restaurant with a big red pepper above the door. The city told us Chili’s would have outdoor seating overlooking the lake, but that never materialized. I have nothing against chain restaurants per se, but Chili’s boxy building does little to take advantage of the property’s scenic assets, and the standard corporate architecture cheapens the park setting.

Evidently, the city learned nothing from this experience, because the one remaining lakefront parcel is destined to become a drive-through hamburger stand.

A short skip down the street on the corner of Del Monte and Canyon Del Rey we got a Starbucks. We can thank the late Jerry Smith for that. Prior to Smith’s administration that plot of land was to become part of a new train station to serve the revival of long-planned and much-needed rail service between the Monterey Peninsula and San Francisco. Its location across the street from Seaside’s two biggest hotels was well suited to an intercity transportation terminal, and would have spurred future development in the surrounding neighborhood. But Smith took the quick coffee money and effectively blocked state and regional transportation plans to connect the Peninsula with California’s growing passenger rail network.

seaside-inn

In Seaside, you’ve got your retail and you’ve got your lodging

A couple blocks north of there is the west end of lower Broadway, a run-down avenue that the city has been trying for decades to develop into a “downtown” environment with attractive shops and restaurants. About a dozen years ago I had the opportunity to talk to some consultants the city hired to help develop the lower Broadway plan. When I told them the city had just killed the train station I practically had to scrape their jaws off the floor, they thought it so foolish.

Meanwhile, the city sort-of managed to complete the first step of the Broadway plan with the completion of the City Center shopping center at Broadway and Fremont. They got the architectural design right; it’s the most attractive building in Seaside. But the tenants are all wrong. They’re the same kinds of neighborhood strip-mall stores you find all over most towns. That corner needs a major anchor, like a department store, to draw shoppers from all over the Peninsula, not just the immediate neighborhood. That in turn would attract smaller businesses to the rest of Broadway. If Seaside had a department store on one end and an intercity rail station near the other, Broadway would be well on its way to becoming an economic engine for Seaside. If only….

Here’s another inexcusable failure. For decades Seaside has wanted to build a new library on Broadway next to the Post Office. Some $3.5 million from the county was made available for this purpose in 1997. Seaside lost the money in January 2014 because we sat on it too long.

Two other major projects have also been on Seaside’s drawing boards for a couple of decades, including a resort hotel at the city’s golf courses, and the Main Gate shopping center, both on Fort Ord land. These, too, have moved at a snail’s pace. Not a speck of dirt has been moved. Meanwhile, neighboring Marina has managed to slowly but surely redevelop its portion of Fort Ord, making tangible economic progress while Seaside stagnates. Why is that?

Mayor Ralph Rubio offered a worn-out excuse at Thursday’s meeting. He said Seaside can’t develop the blighted areas of Fort Ord because the city can’t afford to demolish the old concrete Army buildings to make the land suitable for new development – a problem he says Marina didn’t have to deal with. He implied that the income from Monterey Downs would provide the necessary revenue for Seaside to clean up the blight, hence the importance of keeping Monterey Downs alive.

If that is true, why did Seaside take on the responsibility to clean up the Army’s mess in the first place if the city didn’t have the financial resources to do so? Shouldn’t the federal government be paying for that? And what is the Fort Ord Reuse Authority’s role here? Its job is to help local cities successfully redevelop the former Army base. I haven’t followed FORA’s workings very closely, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here, but shouldn’t FORA, not Brian Boudreau, be the one helping Seaside subsidize the clean-up? We shouldn’t have to scar undeveloped land to fund the redevelopment-scarred land.

So Seaside has a long history of land-use blunders. Many of them involved underdevelopment of prime real estate. Monterey Downs takes the city to the opposite extreme – overdevelopment – beyond the region’s capacity to support it. Housing, shopping, hotels, and a racetrack hosting numerous special events all require roads and water to function, and we don’t have a lot of either. The Peninsula already hosts dozens of special events every year, more than many big cities. How can our little corner of the world handle the additional crowds without stressing our infrastructure and resources to the breaking point?

With Monterey Downs I think Seaside is taking on more than it can chew, especially given City Hall’s track record of poor judgment. The best case scenario I envision has Monterey Downs collapsing under its own weight. The forthcoming environmental impact report will likely show that the area hasn’t the capability to support it, everyone will agree with the findings, and it will die a painless death. The city will then concentrate its focus on the Main Gate, the resort hotel, and lower Broadway – all relatively non-controversial projects with basic infrastructure already in place – and hopefully get at least one of them off the ground in the next couple of years.

Dream on. If past experience is any guide, Boudreau and his friends at City Hall will dig in their heels, spin the numbers to their liking, maybe scale things back a bit, and plow ahead. Monterey Downs will become an obsession, taking planning department resources away from the more credible projects. It would be analogous to invading Iraq and neglecting Afghanistan, resulting in a mess on both fronts. In the end nothing will get done, Seaside’s economy will continue to stagnate, and city leaders will blame everybody but themselves.

 James Toy is a native of Carmel, currently living in Seaside, who occasionally gets involved in local political matters. He is the creator of a community oriented website called The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box at www.montereypeninsula.info. This commentary also appears on that site.

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